Rebuilt to Suit

SLU won't say what it has in store for the Locust Business District.

Not long after the meeting, a YouTube user uploaded Brady's presentation to the video-sharing Web site, where St. Louisans curious about the future of midtown can still access it.

The livery stable, though, won't be around much longer.

In early June Locust residents and property owners got ahold of a May 17 letter from Brady to Alderwoman Marlene Davis and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

Jassen Johnson, outside the Dinks Parrish Laundry building on Olive at Compton, one of Integration Development's first projects.
Jassen Johnson, outside the Dinks Parrish Laundry building on Olive at Compton, one of Integration Development's first projects.
Locust pioneer Erich Kollinger turned an old Cadillac dealership into luxury lofts.
Locust pioneer Erich Kollinger turned an old Cadillac dealership into luxury lofts.

"I'm happy to report that contrary to the rumor that we had plans to demolish seven of our properties north of Olive, we're only doing one," Brady writes. "We've received bids for the demolition of 3401 Locust."

On Thursday, May 24, Davis introduced Board Bill 129, which would essentially turn over to SLU an alley that separates the livery stable from another university property directly to the north, in order to create a surface parking lot a block wide. The following week SLU applied for a demolition permit.

Says Davis: "They changed their mind. They are going to tear the building down." Does the alderwoman favor the decision to demolish? "I have no reason to be one way or the other," Davis responds. "They are private owners, and they can do what they choose with the property. I have no designs on putting a development there or anything."

But others did have designs. Jassen Johnson dreamed of transforming the livery stable into office space and condos. "SLU basically out-trumped me on it," he says, recalling the day two years ago when the university aced him out. According to one neighbor who asked not to be named in print, another prominent local developer had drawn up plans — on spec — to further the idea of a university theater district. It had as its centerpiece a renovated livery stable.

The building is one of a handful in the district that predate the automobile. Initially it served as a sort of prehistoric parking garage for the horses owned by residents who lived in the neighborhood's stately homes. When the dwellings gave way to auto row, the stable was renovated as a salesroom for the Salisbury Motor Company.

"It's a building that could certainly become yet another active and vital part of the Grand Center area," says Carolyn Toft, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis. On June 3 the nonprofit group placed the stable on a list of 2007's "Eleven Most Endangered Buildings." Toft says she can't fathom why the university would tear it down for parking, reeling off a litany of arguments against doing so: "There's public transit, [the new arena]'s right on bus lines, it's close to MetroLink, Saint Louis University has tons of garages, there's endless street parking. What is this?"

Johnson says SLU's demolitions have damaged the streetscape at the western edge of the district. Pedestrians headed to dinner on Locust after a show at the Fox may be wary of traversing a row of unsightly surface lots in order to get to a restaurant and might head straight for their cars and drive elsewhere. Moreover, Johnson says, what originally drew him to the district was its cohesiveness: It was rundown, but the infrastructure was still intact. "You still have that continuity and infill," he says. "And as you're walking down the street there's always something to look at, either in a storefront or a restaurant, keeping that pedestrian, urban feel to it — as opposed to just desecrating it and putting blocks and blocks of surface parking. It just doesn't work."

The Zane O. Williams redevelopment project is next door to the livery stable, whose demolition will leave the rehabbed building surrounded by surface parking lots. "Everything else around it is going to be gone," Johnson laments. "It's unfortunate that they're not going to keep a community feel like we were hoping. I think the bodies will still be down there. But there won't be the continuity."

Rollin Stanley, executive director of the St. Louis Planning and Urban Design Agency, deferred to the mayor's office when asked to comment about the present and future of the Locust Business District. Barb Geisman, the city's deputy mayor of development, failed to respond to repeated phone messages requesting comment.

Zane O. Williams owner Jeff Williams says he learned of the plans via a notice affixed to his back door: a city document he was to sign, agreeing to forfeit his rights to the alley.

Williams says he has been assured by SLU officials that he won't lose access to the alley while he needs it. Still, he's miffed at the process. "No one with the city called us or said anything about it," he says, adding that Marlene Davis, his alderwoman, hasn't returned his calls. "It's very frustrating. I've called and e-mailed her and haven't heard from her."

Jassen Johnson says he'll press ahead with his projects regardless of the university's actions. "I've spent four and a half years fostering relationships with building owners in the neighborhood," he says. "As they decide that they want to make a move with their business, or relocate, I'm the person everybody knows. Either I helped them develop themselves as an investment or we did it ourselves. Regardless, they know that I more than likely can help find someone to develop it."

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